Rihanna’s “Man Down”

6 Jun

Rihanna’s newly released video for her song “Man Down” depicts a hidden Rihanna shooting a man to death in a train station. The violence occurs at the beginning of the video, the remaining scenes depict the events leading up to the murder.


Rihanna strolls through the video in beautiful cropped dresses, extensions, and a ready smile or skulk. She is first glimpsed at a dancehall by her future assailant: they dance, she leaves, he follows her and attacks. The song details her actions, and her feelings of regret and confession.

According to several news outlets, “Man Down” has quickly acquired a large amount of controversy, with several groups calling for a boycott of the song. Citing extreme violence and Rihanna’s failure to avail herself as positive role model, the groups are arguing that the video does much more harm than good.


By demonstrating the response of vengeance, rather than urging girls and women to turn to the proper legal channels after being victimized through sexual assault, those who oppose Rihanna’s revision believe that she is serving as a negative counterpoint to those working to end sexual abuse through legal, political, and social advocacy means.

Further, due to Rihanna’s very public past as a victim of domestic violence, “Man Down” is largely being interpreted through highly personalized and psychological projections. Therefore, those who remain critical of Rihanna’s music video are also, to varying degrees, using her private experience to further judgement of her behavior, her music, and how she demonstrates both through her video.

It is completely bewildering to me that, in light of nearly every video produced at this point in the MTV universe, Rihanna’s “Man Down” is suddenly the target of censure. It is utterly absurd that after any short or long amount of time spent watching videos, bearing witness to nearly naked hootchie after nearly naked hootchie, bootie-shaking, gunplay, posturing, simulated violence and assault, incessant trash talk about bitches, sluts, harpies, etc. a 5-minute video depicting a woman avenging her rape by shooting her rapist calls for an unleashing of the censorious hounds and moral scolds.

That said, a music video is not intended to be read as a documentary: meaning, a literal interpretation of a figurative creation is often futile, or irrelevant. With this I do not mean to imply that any artistic production cannot and should not be held responsible for its meanings, only that it is often a fool’s project to take a singer to task for a 5-minute video.

Also, it must be stressed that such projects have a tendency to fixate their political concerns and moral outrages towards particular people and particular ideas. Whether Rihanna chooses to be filmed shooting a man down in a Caribbean train station in a music video is really not that significant of a concern; indeed the act itself is a literal transcription of the song’s lyrics, and therefore not incredibly imaginative.

If Rihanna’s personal history had not been marked by a violent assault upon her by her then-boyfriend, would “Man Down” have provoked the same measure of outrage? Is the fear based on the facts of her experience, lending the video a sense of levity that it otherwise would not have possessed?

If more violent men feared female vengeance, then perhaps there’d be less violence committed upon women.


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